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Adding value to Canadian food: a study by the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry
December 5, 2018

When you think of agriculture in Canada, fields of wheat, canola and barley are often what first come to mind. Maybe you think of cranberry fields or apple orchards, tomato fields or rows of grape vines, corn mazes and roadside fruit stands.

But do you ever pause to think about what happens to all those crops once they’re grown? The products made from the food grown in Canada make up a significant portion of manufacturing sector Gross Domestic Product — a total of 16.4% in 2016.

By processing fruit and crops close to where they are grown, transportation costs are reduced, jobs are created, and environmental impacts can be mitigated. The value-added sector also helps to recover some of the products that don’t meet the high standards of retail — having the perfect colour, shape and size — which would otherwise be sent to the landfill.

Learn more about this critical industry by watching the video below.

This fall, the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry spent a week visiting with farmers, producers, researchers and innovators in British Columbia and Manitoba to better understand the complexities of this vital sector. The fact-finding mission formed part of the committee’s study of Canada’s value-added food sector.

Here is a snapshot of what senators learned on their trip.

Senator Diane Griffin, chair of the committee, examines products made by Summerland Sweets. The company benefits from the BC government’s initiative that encourages consumers to buy local. However, the difficulty in finding the roughly 30 staff members needed annually often leads them to turn to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

At the SunRype plant in Kelowna, BC, senators learn that sometimes it takes some creativity to offer fruit-flavoured products that are not too high in sugar. In fact, 100% fruit juice contains more sugar than artificially sweetened beverages, but also more nutrients and vitamins. Products labelled “high in sugar” could indeed hurt businesses like SunRype.

Senators Mercer, Black and Maltais taste a new variety of apple, the 1080, which is not yet on the market. It is resistant to browning and is currently being taste-tested, as are several other new varieties of apple at the Summerland research centre.

Members of the Agriculture committee admire the view from Nk’Mip Cellars, the first Indigenous-owned winery in North America. Despite winning many national and international awards, they are still unable to sell their products in several of Canada’s provinces or in any of the territories.

Committee members learn that the BC Tree Fruit Cooperative adds value to fruit that fails to meet retail market standards by pressing it into cider. Cider is usually made from apples, but several other cider varieties are made from whatever fruit happens to be in season.

During their visit to Mission Hill, senators meet Anita Stewart, third from the left, who launched Food Day Canada, which actively seeks to promote the growth and study of Canada’s culinary culture while encouraging people to buy local and Canadian products.

On October 31, Halloween, the committee visits the Wise Earth Farm in Kelowna, BC, where they are welcomed with a basket of living flowers. The day began on a sweet note.

On site, the committee was able to appreciate the challenges facing smaller-scale farmers who often have to take a second job for financial stability. They must be very creative to do more with less, but fortunately the community and their network make it all possible. There was a real sense of solidarity.

Canadian grains can be used to create all kinds of different products. Do you recognize any of these shapes?

Senator Diane Griffin tests a virtual reality headset that immerses the user in the reality of a farm. It demonstrates the various stages in the development of processed food products.

As soon as they arrived at the offices of Hemp Oil Canada, the senators saw the many ways that hemp can be used; even the shelving and walls are made from this raw material. They also saw the range of processed foods that could be produced from hemp.

The committee visited the Viterra facility, which produces canola oil. The company spoke with senators about sustainable development challenges in an energy-intensive industry.